Don’t Forget Your Members are People

There's a lot of power in data, engagement scoring, and finely tuned marketing campaigns, but don't lose sight of the people behind all those numbers. Here are a few reminders about the human side of association membership work.

Of all the bells and whistles an association management system (AMS) can offer, there’s one simple feature that, in my opinion, might offer the most bang for the buck: a photo headshot included in the member record display.

Here’s why. Both two weeks ago and again last week in this space, I’ve shared some insights on member-engagement-data tracking. The data-capture and -analysis capabilities of AMS’s are a growing and exciting subject for membership professionals, but there’s at least one potential pitfall: In the quest to better understand your members through data, it’s easy to forget that real people live behind those numbers in your AMS. A photo of each member’s smiling face that displays with their member record is a simple way to keep their person-hood top of mind.

The human side of membership is vital because so much of success in association management rests on relationship building. I’ve been reminded of this by several smart thinkers in the past few weeks:

A personal message. In his blog post “Wish You Were Here,” Jeffrey Cufaude, president and CEO of Idea Architects, shared the power of “come back” messages to lapsed members. A gym he had been away from for a while sent him a postcard of his most-used workout equipment that read “I miss you so much.”

The human side of membership is vital because so much of success in association management rests on relationship building.

“We miss you. That’s the message a community would send to one of its former members,” he wrote. “So many associations have ‘Member Get a Member’ campaigns, but I haven’t seen one that has a ‘Member Get a Member Back’ Campaign. We believe peer-peer outreach is good for recruitment, but not for retention. Really?”

Networking matchmaker. Belinda Moore, managing director of the Australasian Society of Association Executives, shared in a Learning Lab at the 2013 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo last month that she personally works out seating plans for lunch events at her organization, with assigned seats chosen to foster relationships among members. Some she chooses to welcome new members to the fold, while others she matches based on professional needs or business endeavors, she said.

Aligning goals. Community managers face an inherent conflict between the goals of an online member community and the goals of the organization that serves them, according to Ryan Crowe, social media strategist at Stealth Creative, in “Two Key Questions for Every Community Manager” at the SocialFish blog. It’s the community manager’s unique job to navigate between the two.

“The organization and the community each have certain goals. What are those goals? It’s up to you to figure that out—what motivates your community to act? What are their wants and needs? … And, of course, what are you, as the community manager, trying to accomplish? What wants and needs do you have? Does your plan align with your community’s goals? Are your goals at odds with the community’s? As a community manager, it is your responsibility to be the flexible party on behalf of your brand/company,” Crowe wrote.

Uniting a new community. Last, as shared here at Associations Now last week, FaB Milwaukee, a small trade group for food and beverage industry manufacturers in southeast Wisconsin, began collecting member dues in August after initially forming in March 2012. Shelley Jurewicz, the group’s executive director, told the Milwaukee Business Journal that the association’s first 18 months were spent building a community of members with a common cause: “We have been convening a large group of diverse employers in this industry for more than a year. Now those companies are formally investing in the infrastructure of this organization to sustain the network.”

In all of these cases, the value of strong relationship building is clear. To express a personal message after a noticeable absence, to play networking matchmaker, to align the goals of an online community and a business, to rustle up support for a cause in a new community—you can’t do any of these with just a database and a spreadsheet.

Way back in November of last year, I posed a question about whether the job of a membership pro is more art or science. No one posted an answer at the time, but in my mind the answer is both. Ideally, each side reinforces the other. So, after two straight weeks of exploring the mechanics of member-engagement scoring, consider this a reminder to keep the human side of membership work fresh, too.

(Digital Vision/Thinkstock)

Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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